Buddhist Statecraft in East Asia

Vishal Singh Bhadauriya

Buddhist statecraft in East Asia is a volume edited by Stephanie Balkwill and James A. Benn. The book is not just the work of any one author but the contribution of many. Each of these authors has presented their study on Buddhist statecraft in different East Asian countries and compiled them into a single volume. The book presents a detailed description of collective work, of Buddhism as a religion, and of the role it played in the politics and administration during that era.

The initial part of the introduction mentions how China became a “flexible historical placeholder for both the legitimation of and opposition to new and innovative means of statecraft throughout the region” with the help of Buddhism. It explains Buddhist statecraft and mentions that many of the discovered pieces of literature state different versions of the same story. The historians have intended to reshape the history of collecting.The introduction also shows the connection between Buddhism and Confucianism and, later, highlights the five foundational themes of the volume.

First, the concept of State protection of Buddhism; second, the relationship between Monastics and the State; third, the imperial sponsorship of Buddhist texts, institutions, and teachings by Buddhist rulers; fourth, the idea that Buddhism itself became a vector for the spread of Sinitic culture within the east-Asian world. In the fifth part, the text goes over the persecution of Buddhism as a form of statecraft. These five themes are explored throughout this publication. Contributors Balkwill and Benn also mention goal of providing readers with a newly enhanced knowledge of Buddhism.

The second chapter by Stephanie Balkwill, deals with the life, rule, and death of Chinese Emperor Dowager Ling, and sheds light on how she came to be known as ‘Ling.’ The meaning of the name Ling is elaborately explained in this chapter, on pages twenty-five and forty-one. The empress' link to her aunt, a Buddhist nun and a teacher to emperor Xuanwu, was the reason for her arrival in the royal court. As opposed to her childhood, her life after her introduction to the court is well-known and recorded. She was a prodigal empress and the scenic description of monasteries in the text 'The record of Buddhist Monasteries in Luoyang' speaks for that. An excerpt of this text is  is included on page 30. Despite her ambiguous stance of religion, she worked towards the upliftment pf Buddhism during the reign of her contemporaries, as Buddhism was deteriorating. Empress Dowager was the best example of how contemporary Buddhism differed in courts and kingdoms.

Another essay, by Richard McBride II, describes King Chinhung's institution of state protection for Buddhist rituals in the Korean state of Silla. This was the last policy on the Korean peninsula to adopt Buddhism as the state religion. These rituals "augmented royal prestige and power and used Buddhist means to promote the authority and legitimacy of the Silla royal family in the late sixth century." A remarkable feature during his reign was the assembly of Eight Prohibitions, mentioned in detail on pages fifty-three and fifty-four. Buddhism was highly regarded during this time, as an apocryphal 'Sutra for Human King' mentions that people turned to religion in times of crisis. Hence, a lot of pagodas, monasteries, and symbolic imagery in architecture were constructed during this time.

Moreover, Geoffrey C. Goble's presents his work on the commissioner of merit and virtue during the Tang government. This position reflected institutional Buddhism's role within the Tang State from mid-eighth century until the end of the dynasty and highlights the basis of esoteric Buddhism during the Tang reign. During his rule,  the religious structures merged and worked with the imperial administration. Goble’s writing also discusses that, before Amoghvajra, the procedures constantly changed in relation to who the concurrent  ruler was.

The following essay by Megan Bryson explores the paintings of the Buddhist rulers in the Dali kingdom. As mentioned on page eighty-nine, these art forms depicted the religious and administrative systems. Bryson also discusses pillar inscriptions representing both  threats of external attack and internal rebellion. Apart from the archaeological sources, literary sources like scriptures are also used in this essay. The author writes about how the scriptures were tampered with in order to support religious involvement of the State They were also presented as truth, promising to eradicate disasters and augment royal power. The scripture. The essay's main focus is on the Buddhist king paintings which were glorified as they were the "direct references to the Scripture for Humane Kings, several frames depict Nanzhao kings, tutelary deities tied to the Duan family, and cakravartins surrounded by the seven precious things".

The following contribution by Gregory N. Evon holds records of the deterioration of Buddhist roles in statecraft, in Korea, during Choson Dynasty's reign. Buddhism was seen in a different light and posed a threat to the state. With the rise in this sentiment, religion was no longer protected and, as a result, religious networks  and were overthrown. Rather than a strength, Buddhism began to be seen as an impediment to statecraft. When king Sejo ascended to the throne, he attempted – but failed - to reaffirm Buddhist faith The initial merging of Confucianism and Buddhism had turned sour, as the former accused the latter of being uncivilized . The Korean Buddhist institutions were negatively impacted by both the anti-Buddhist movements that erupted in 9th century China and Tokugawa-Meiji transition in 19th-century Japan.

The final chapter by Jacqueline I. Stone studies the Fuju fuse struggle by the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. It reveals how the Buddhism Lotus sect (Nichiren sect) dealt with hostile regimes in early modern Japan and goes into the history of the confrontation superiority struggle was at the origin of the controversy, and the conflict was divided into different phases, ultimately tragically ending in mass executions

The volume title could not be more appropriate for it provides the actual role of Buddhism in relation to Statecraft. A proper case study and minute details have been included in every essay. Because the book consists of various essays, the volume is compiled in a textbook style. This volume will find utility in the classroom, where it can enrih conversations about the very nature of what we call Buddhism and how we might study it. Every time an important text, event, ritual, or emperor was mentioned, translations of keywords in Chinese, English, and Sanskrit could be found, making it easier to relate and understand. The book could have been written in less monotonous language, but this flaw can be overlooked owing to the quality of the content it holds.